News Briefing

Smithson sentenced

William F. Smithson, convicted in November of the strangulation death of Jason Shephard, was sentenced last week to life imprisonment without parole.

At the time of the September 2006 crime, Smithson, 43, and Shephard, 23, worked for Daktronics, a South Dakota-based scoreboard manufacturer.

Shephard was visiting Smithson’s home in Thornbury Twp., Delaware County, when Smithson allegedly administered a date-rape drug to Shephard, then tried to rape him.

When Shephard resisted, Smithson strangled him to death, prosecutors said.

In addition to the life sentence, Delaware County Common Pleas Judge Barry C. Dozor sentenced Smithson to 104 months in prison for attempted rape, kidnapping, unauthorized administration of intoxicants and abuse of a corpse, as well as two years of probation.

Erica G. Parham, a spokesperson for the Delaware County District Attorney’s office, lauded Dozor’s sentencing.

“We respected the jury’s decision, and we also respect Judge Dozor’s sentencing because he applied the appropriate seriousness that we believe this case warranted,” Parham said.

But Rob Nardello, 42, a close friend of Smithson, said Smithson did not receive a fair trial.

“There’s no physical evidence that ties Bill to the murder, nor to any crime that he supposedly committed that night,” Nardello told PGN. “Bill was convicted due to circumstantial evidence and homophobia. The District Attorney’s office didn’t prove anything.”

Patrick Connors, an appellate attorney for Smithson, was unavailable for comment.

— Tim Cwiek

Dog extortionist paroled

The minor found guilty of making terroristic phone calls to a local gay man who was looking for his missing dog was released from a juvenile facility Jan. 28.

Victor Rodriguez, 16, was convicted of four misdemeanor charges in regards to phone calls he placed to Bill Whiting in November 2007. Whiting’s dog, Edna, had gone missing Halloween night and several weeks later Whiting received numerous calls from youth claiming to have the dog. The callers threatened to torture and kill the dog unless Whiting paid them, and Whiting said he heard a dog yelping on the phone.

Phone records traced the calls to Rodriguez and he was arrested last February and found guilty of making terroristic threats, extortion, harassment and conspiracy. In April, a judge remanded Rodriguez to a juvenile facility in western Pennsylvania, which typically only holds youth for up to a year.

Rodriguez is on parole under an agreement that stipulates that he must take his medication, complete his high-school education and regularly report to his parole officer.

Whiting’s dog was never found.

Cresheim Cottage closes

The lesbian-owned Cresheim Cottage Café in Mount Airy closed its doors last week following a year of financial difficulties, generated in part by a long-term construction project along the main thoroughfare in the neighborhood.

A $17-million Pennsylvania Department of Transportation construction project, which began in November 2007, shut down stretches of Germantown Avenue, on which the restaurant was located, for months at a time. The project wrapped up late last year, but throughout its duration, Cresheim Cottage saw a nearly 75-percent drop in sales.

Openly LGBT owners Donna Fitzgerald Robb and Lizza Robb, who’ve operated Cresheim Cottage for five years, put the restaurant up for sale in September for $775,000.

The pair said the construction project, along with the general economic downturn, forced the closure of the business.

LGBTs rally for marriage equality

The LGBT and ally communities will come together in Harrisburg next week to voice their support for marriage equality. The community is invited to attend a Freedom to Marry rally at 4 p.m. Feb. 11 at the Dauphin County Courthouse at Front and Market streets.

Nearly 50 organizations have signed on to sponsor the event, which will kick off with a marriage ceremony presided over by the Rev. Eva O’Diam. The rally will take place during rush hour outside the building where couples obtain marriage licenses.

For more information, contact Alanna Berger, chair of Rainbow EqUUality Advocates at (717) 361-2992 or [email protected] or Bolton Winpenny, head of Panzee Press, at (717) 564-2477 or [email protected]. Those interested in participating in the commitment ceremony can contact O’Diam at (717) 236-7387 or [email protected].

Forum to review city budget

The University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Project for Civic Engagement will host “The City Budget: Tight Times, Tough Choices, Citizen Priorities” to explain the city’s current fiscal situation and invite recommendations for 2010 city budget priorities.

At the forums, local journalists will question top officials about the city’s current economic status, which will be followed by “citizen-work sessions,” in which participants will analyze potential budget changes.

Those who wish to make a statement to city officials will be permitted to submit a short, videotaped segment.

Registration for all of the meetings begins at 6 p.m., with the panel discussion starting at 7 p.m. and the event concluding around 9:30 p.m. The forums are as follows: Feb. 12 at St. Dominic’s School, 8510 Frankford Ave.; Feb. 18 at Mastery Charter School-Pickett Campus, 5700 Wayne Ave.; Feb. 19 at St. Monica’s School, 1720 Ritner St.; and Feb. 23 at Pinn Memorial Baptist Church, 2251 N. 54th St.

For more information, contact Dr. Harris Sokoloff, executive director of Penn’s Center for School Study Councils at (215) 898-7371.

— Jen Colletta

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